News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 23, 2013

FLASHPOINT: Forgiveness not often part of prescription for justice


Special to the Tribune-Star

---- — Scourged on the way to the cross, “via dolorosa” (way of sorrow ), and then nailed to it, Christ forgave his executioners: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”

Such magnanimity of heart — forgiveness for what the faithful see as deicide — leaves behind a strong instruction: Evil is born out of ignorance.

History shows that Christians, Jews and Muslims have killed many enemies, pagans or infidels in Holy Wars. Such is the spawn of ignorance ironically in the name of a merciful Almighty.

Another way to rationalize, mitigate or explain away evil, we see from defense attorneys who claim adult violence is rooted in child abuse.

No doubt evil begets evil.

Evidence from neuroscientists now reveals from brain studies that some are predisposed to be psychopaths, to have no conscience the way some are born blind or deaf.

Insanity, absence of premeditation and negligent homicide also complicate the prosecution of evil acts.

Some evil acts cannot be diminished.

An Arizona jury, after convicting Jodi Arias of a premeditated and torturous murder, was unable to agree on a death sentence or life in prison, despite three days of deliberation. A new sentencing trial will follow.

Media attention to this five-month trial has equaled the most notorious of the 20th century. Most likely because of the horrific brutality inflicted on an ex-lover before he died. Jilted and enraged, Arias stabbed Travis Alexander 29 times, shot him in the head, and slit his throat from ear to ear, close to decapitation. In an unprecedented 18 days of testimony, Arias did a second hatchet job on Travis by maligning his character in every conceivable way, accusing him of vile abuses, physical, sexual and verbal.

Attorneys proliferated on TV shows like rarely seen before. On HLN, four legal analysts agreed that the jury would opt for the death penalty. All were wrong.

Justice for the family and friends of Travis was reported to be nothing less than death for an atrocity so heinous.

The Alexander family was visibly devastated by the hung jury in the penalty phase. Eight voted for death, four for life in prison. Whatever the next verdict, Travis’ family will not likely be forgiving toward Arias. Ever.

Seeing that the Dalai Lama begged forgiveness for the Boston bombers (but not for their crime), he likely would have wished the same for Arias.

Would Holocaust survivor Eva Kor have done likewise if she thought it would bring to the victim’s family release from anger, hate and vindictiveness that could eat at their hearts like a disease?

Forgiveness has been the epicenter of Eva’s “ministry” over the years since she has wisely built into her CANDLES Holocaust Museum a passion for education as well as remembrance.

Forgiveness she came by honestly after the great healing it brought to her as an Auschwitz survivor, but it has not resonated well with most of the Holocaust survivors.

I empathize with them, no less than with Eva, for following the dictates of their heart and conscience.

Eva has eloquently argued that forgiveness is not for the salvation or absolution of Dr. Mengele or the Nazi criminals behind the Holocaust. But rather a self-salvation therapy to free herself from shackles so burdensome to the spirit. But this emancipatory prescription for healing does not and cannot apply to all. Holocaust survivors have a right NOT to forgive if the imperatives of their heart, conscience and psychic health demand it.

One strategy cannot fit all. There are ways other than forgiveness toward execrable crimes that do not suggest betrayal of one’s quintessential moral fiber.

Can we not cope with hurt and bitterness in the wake of evil done to us by sticking to the call of conscience and our entrenched sense of justice?

Winston Churchill said it well: “When you’re going through hell, keep going!”

Time may not wound all heels, but it helps to heal all wounds. And so does constructive action, even as we see with Eva’s lifetime work of inspiring younger generations toward a better world.

Meantime, in our daily lives, forgiveness may be a wise prescription, but, for most of us, justice cries out that great crimes must neither be forgotten nor forgiven.

— Saul Rosenthal

Terre Haute